Tales of Vesperia

About a console generation ago from this writing, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 seemed to be getting a decent library of roleplaying games, such as Mistwalker’s Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Namco too jumped on the JRPG train for the system, bringing Tales of Vesperia to the 360, and would later port the game to the PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, undisclosed issues have prevented this iteration of the title from reaching North American shores, although armed with a good translation guide, and with the PS3 not being region-locked, those who forewent Microsoft’s console will be able to enjoy it, the game providing an experience on par with its other brethren in the Bandai-Namco pantheon.

Like more contemporary Tales titles, Vesperia features monster models wandering the overworld and dungeon symbolic of encounters with enemy, with contact naturally starting a battle. However, beforehand in dungeons (albeit not on the world map), the player can attempt to zap a monster with the Sorcerer’s Rings to stun it, allowing for the player’s visible character to move beyond if space allows; daze it, in which case the player can contact the monster to gain an advantage where all monsters in the fight are temporarily stunned; or anger it, in which case it becomes aggressive towards the player and initiates an encounter.

If a monster surprises the player’s visible character from behind, their battle party will consist of that particular character and allies in the player’s convoy, rather than those in their active battle party of up to four characters. Fans of contemporary Tales titles will undoubtedly be familiar with the basic battle mechanics, where their party faces off against an enemy party, or in some instances multiple entourages of foes if another monster model was nearby when the player initiated the skirmish, and where the fighters are upon linear battle paths when targeting specific foes. Like in Abyss, when the player holds down a button, they can freely move the controlled character across the circular battlefield.

Outside and inside battle, players can assign up to four TP-consuming battle skills to the controlled party member, not to mention two shortcuts to access confederates’ abilities. Players can chain combos against enemy, in protagonist Yuri’s case up to three normal attacks, although executing one of his assigned skills can allow for an increased combo count if the executed skill’s blows connect. Characters learn innate skills from their equipped weapons, akin to Final Fantasy IX, and can assign a certain number of them based on capacity cost outside combat, some of which can provide helpful effects such as characters being able to use items on their allies automatically when their HP or TP is low.

Without the aforementioned item use skill, allies will automatically use items on only themselves, although players can cancel item use if desired by pressing down on the right stick, although doing so potentially interrupts the controlled character’s combo attack, and use with the left stick’s button would have definitely been preferred. Victory comes when the player has exterminated all monsters, with experience for occasional level-ups, money, occasional items, and points towards mastering skills from weapons acquired. The battle system works well for the most part, with adjustable difficulty, and while the visible encounter system isn’t as great as that in say, EarthBound, using Holy Bottles can make monsters more easily dodgeable during dungeon navigation.

One cannot say the same of the control scheme, which still has its high points such as easily-navigable menus and shopping, players able to buy multiple items of different types while perusing shop inventories, and a handy scene skip function for players that simply wish to read the translations of dialogue in a particular scene and move on more quickly through the game. However, whereas other Tales titles such as the PlayStation 2 remake of Destiny provided visual cues on where to go next to advance the main storyline, doing so in Vesperia often necessitates knowledge of Japanese or use of a guide. Some dungeons would have also benefitted from maps (available only in one), and the game retains the dated Japanese RPG convention of sporadic save points, with no items or spells to exit dungeons instantly or teleport between visited towns, at that. All in all, the developers could have certainly given interaction a once-over.

The storyline is typical Tales fare, with overdone elements such as environmental themes, saving the world from destruction and the supernatural, gathering elemental spirits towards the end of the game, and so forth, although the skits standard to the series add character development. The narrative isn’t bad by any means, but isn’t a reason to play the game.

Motoi Sakuraba and company compose the soundtrack yet again, which has plenty of good tunes, including multiple battle themes that rarely get old. The Japanese voicework also fits the characters, although as with other JRPGs, they tend to botch English names for characters or skills.

The graphics utilize a polished cel-shaded style that looks good for the most part, aside from occasional pixilated texturing for the scenery and an inconsistent framerate in and out of combat.

Finally, the game will last players between a day or two, with plenty lasting appeal in the form of the EX New Game accessed upon completing the title.

Overall, Tales of Vesperia is another solid Tales title that hits most of the right notes regarding things such as the typical normal enjoyable gameplay of the series, good soundtrack and voicework, and pretty visuals. There are areas that leave improvement, however, such as the poor direction on how to advance, especially among those not versed in Japanese, and the hackneyed plotline, although those who can look beyond these flaws and arm themselves with a translation guide will find this to be a solid PlayStation 3 import, should they lack an Xbox 360 to play the title in English.

The Good:
+Solid Tales combat.
+Good soundtrack and voicework.
+Pretty graphics.
+Plenty replay value.

The Bad:
-Often difficult to find out where to go next.
-Hackneyed plot.

The Bottom Line:
Deserved to see English release.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

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